Being a parent is a big responsibility, even more so when you realise that there is only so much in your control.
The ability to love a another human being so intensely, and with so little requirement to expect anything back, is remarkable. As a result, you automatically – and naturally – want only the best for your child; you want them to grow and develop to become the very best versions of themselves.
But you are not the only role models they have in their lives. I’ve experienced the intensity of being the only person my son knew in his forever home, and that was tough on both of us; it made me appreciate how many people are involved in raising a child, and that I can’t do it entirely solo – he doesn’t need that.
But, of course, when he is away from me, I have to be aware of the philosophies different people have. Everyone parents their children according to their own views, but there are broad themes that are similar. I had to learn what I was comfortable with, in terms of what I want my son to experience – because he will, of course, compare and contrast the parenting he gets from me and the care he receives from other people when he is with them.
But it’s important to me as a parent to know that he is receiving good-quality care from those who he is with; it’s important that I can trust those he is with to sustain and develop his values. Those in his immediate circle – my parents, those he considers his aunts and uncles – will do it automatically, because we naturally share a similar outlook; we might not agree on on every single detail, but we agree on the quality of care my son deserves and the boundaries he needs to explore his own personality.
But helping him develop a set of strong and stable values (that phrase is familiar to me from a previous Prime Minister) is more intricate than that when he doesn’t get all of his opinions and thoughts from me or his close network. There are times when he is exposed to thoughts and opinions that might differ violently than his family’s; at school, for example, where he meets students whose family value different things – huge amounts of screen time, for example, which can be alluring for a young child, or a diet of endless chocolate.
I’m fortunate – I get snippets of information from my son about his experiences at school. He tells me who’s on the naughty list (I think his school call it the black cloud or something like that) for the day and what other things happened – but not always. He is developing a really good friendship circle, nearly all of him seem decent kids – but a couple of them within his circle are … strong characters who like to do their own thing; that can include excluding kids who don’t conform, influencing others to do what they want to do, and not always listening to the teacher.
We’re all complex beasts, even children, and I’m confident that these kids will have some good points as well – my son usually has good taste in friends (so far). But I hear the balanced arguments about these kids from other people; I suspect because my son knows I hold Strong Views on tolerance, acceptance, and how to treat people. My lad isn’t involved in this, I’m sure of it – I would have heard by now – so my job now is to counterbalance the moments when these kids take decisions that I don’t condone.
My son now knows that I know about these kids’ behaviour, and I’ve started asking him more about the social side of his day as well. I always used to, but I drill down a bit more now; Who did he play with today? Who made him feel good? Did anyone make him feel sad? It allows me to explore a bit more about his experiences; he’s not always comfortable discussing emotions with me – with anyone – but that’s fine. I don’t need him to reveal all of his inner-most feelings when he doesn’t want to; I just need him to know that he can, and that I know there’s a complexity to friendship which I can help him unpick.
That way, I can help him develop his values and opinions at home, shoring him up to make wise decisions outside the home. He’s not always going to get it right – I bloody don’t, and I’m 38 – but if I can help him figure out his core values and feel comfortable with them, then he is going to be a very capable young man with a lot to offer as he grows up.